Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision: "Portrait" (2007)
Institute for Sound and Vision in Hilversum, the Netherlands (Neutelings Riedijk)


Willem Jan Neutelings and Michiel Riedijk have been working together since 1992 and are the founding partners of Neutelings Riedijk Architecten, based in Rotterdam. The firm is currently working on such projects as the City Museum of Antwerp (Museum aan de Stroom, or MAS), Deventer’s city hall, the Eemcentrum cultural centre in Amersfoort and a casino in Utrecht. Their completed buildings include the Shipping and Transport College in Rotterdam (2005), the ‘Sphinxes’ apartment buildings in Huizen (2003), the Stuk performing arts centre in Leuven (2002) and the Minnaert university building in Utrecht (1997).

They were awarded the commission for the Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision after winning the design competition in 1999. Neutelings Riedijk often attempt to obtain commissions by winning competitions. ‘We are both lucky and unlucky enough to get few direct commissions,’ explains Michiel Riedijk. ‘Lucky, because in a competition the concepts reach a level of power they don’t often have in direct commissions.’ In addition, Riedijk feels, at the start of a competition architects are still further removed from the potential future client, which means they can adopt a freer position. ‘This allows the architect to comment, without prior knowledge, on the organization that has hired him. A large new building often brings together different organizations. The thinking of the people involved is mostly an extension of what they are used to in the old situation. It is partly up to the architect to think about the synergy of the component parts.’

Neutelings Riedijk in fact took on this commentator role with Sound and Vision. The various elements of the organization housed within the institute have each been given an identifiable place within the straightforward, rectangular volume of the building. The desired synergy, primarily expressed in the interaction between the archives and the Media experience, is architecturally underscored by the common atrium and the building’s coloured glass façade.

At first glance, the institute seems to have little in common with the firm’s previous projects, but the building does have precedents in its components, says Riedijk. ‘Our work follows two lines, ’he asserts, ‘the box and the sculpture.’ The boxes are the Veenman printing works in Ede (1997), the Minnaert building in Utrecht and the Columbus office building at Schiphol airport (2001). Like the Institute for Sound and Vision these are rectangular structures with a void in the centre, sometimes in the form of an atrium and sometimes in the form of an inner garden. For the Veenman printing works building, the architects also worked with a graphic designer for the first time: Karel Martens decorated the glass façades with a poem by K. Schippers.

In addition, says Riedijk, the design of the Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision is based on the ‘grain size’ of the spaces inside the building. ‘From the start, the design brief involved numerous rooms of widely different dimensions. This leads to a composition in which the left over space in the centre naturally acquires a sculptural form. The buildings that are sculptures externally, like the Shipping and Transport College, generally feature standard storey heights and internal spaces of equal size. Any larger spaces, like that of the Transport College, are tacked on the outside, like a nose. This principle can also be seen in the fire station in Breda (1999) and the Dutch Public Works and Water Management Support Centre in Harlingen (1998).

In the past several years, Neutelings Riedijk has endeavoured to shift its field of work to large public buildings. The Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision, in 1999, was their first large-scale commission, and it brought about a shift in scale. ‘These days we don’t take on housing projects anymore,’ says Riedijk. ‘The impact of the project developer and the housing consumer is too pervasive, and inquiry into what living in the city means is no longer possible. We’ll hold off on any new housing projects until the hegemony of the estate firms is over.’ That’s unfortunate, because the housing projects of Neutelings Riedijk, virtually without exception, are fascinating typological studies into floor plans and access possibilities. This has resulted in projects praised far and wide and covered extensively in print, including the Panorama apartments in Huizen (1997), the flats on the Hollainhof in Ghent (1998), the housing project on the former GWL waterworks site in Amsterdam (1998) and the dwellings on the island of Sporenburg, also in Amsterdam (1998).

Large public buildings do present opportunities for inquiries through design. In the Sound and Vision project, for instance, the architects were able to opt for leaving the archives pretty unadorned. This allowed them to concentrate all their attention – and with it the money – on the places many people would frequent. The large scale of the institute also made it possible for them to work with Jaap Drupsteen. Such significant input by a graphic designer would not have been feasible in smaller utilitarian structures, let alone in a housing project. ‘Working with people with a different sort of expertise adds a layer of meaning to the building,’ Riedijk feels. ‘It provides a cultural foundation for the building. This is the first time that it’s really worked out.’